As a nutritionist, I’ve promised people for years that it won’t cost any more to eat well than it does to eat poorly. Granted, fresh raspberries out of season are pricey and wild Scottish salmon can out-cost a Happy Meal, but my promise holds true: If you make smart choices, shop carefully, and adopt some cheap-shopping tricks, you can boost your health and spend less than you would at the drive-through.
The first place to start is with meat, which accounts for a third of most people’s food bills. You can save money by redefining this one item as a compliment, not the main attraction. For example, instead of steak, serve beef stew made with extra-lean meat, carrots, potatoes, celery, mushrooms, and onions, and cut your dinner bill by half. Not only that, but the stew has much less artery-clogging fat than the steak.
In general, the less processed a food, the more nutritious and less costly it is. For example, a potato costs approximately half what a serving of frozen hashbrowns costs. You can cut the cost of breakfast in half by switching from packaged cinnamon-flavored oatmeal to plain old-fashioned oatmeal. Frozen plain vegetables also tend to be cheaper than canned.
Snack on fruits and vegetables. Highly-processed snack items aren’t as cheap as they look. A small bag of potato chips seems inexpensive, but price those chips by the pound and they out-price a steak! Instead, vegetables and fruits on sale and in season can save hundreds of dollars over the course of a year compared to processed snack foods.
In addition, follow these simple rules for cutting costs, while maximizing taste and nutrition:
1. Buy less expensive produce. Apples, oranges, bananas, carrots, cabbage, and onions are usually less expensive year around, and they are packed with vitamin C for healthy eyes.
2. Look for specials/use coupons. Buy these discounted foods in quantity and store or freeze. For example, purchase pounds of bananas when on sale. Peel and freeze to use in smoothies later.
3. Buy in bulk. Oatmeal, rice, nuts, tea, dried fruit, seasonings, sugar, and many other dry goods are available in bulk bins at supermarkets, health food stores, discount groceries, and food co-ops, for pennies on the dollar.
4. Shop at warehouse clubs. Granted, you buy in larger quantities at these stores, but comparison shopping can save you big bucks. No place to store the box of apples or case of water-packed tuna? Shop with friends and split the food.
5. Buy in season. Raspberries might cost $10 a basket in March, but be patient and enjoy them for as little as $2 in July.
6. Bean it up. Beans in the bulk food section cost less than a dollar a pound, yet are packed with fiber, B vitamins, minerals, and protein! Even canned beans are a bargain.
7. Buy generic. Store brands of frozen vegetables, canned fruit, milk, and other items usually cost less than brand names.